Searching for Bush's Jesus

Laid in a manger, abridged in the White House

I suppose he could have decided to isolate the verses that seem to say that just believing in Jesus is enough ("He that believeth on me hath everlasting life," John 6:47, etc. etc.). In my childhood I did meet a number of Christians who believed Jesus taught that all they had to do was profess "faith" to be automatically good and moral, and it is possible to isolate that interpretation. But my minister emphasized that, as James reminded followers after Jesus's death, "It is not enough, my brother, to say you have faith, when there are no deeds…. O vain man … faith without works is dead." Bush and other Christians also seem able to completely ignore Jesus's warnings "That a rich man [kindly changed to 'person' in some new translations] shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:23) and "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:24).

But surely these few Bible verses weren't enough to convince Bush to ignore Jesus's more dominant teachings, even though the evangelist who talked to him in 1984, fresh from a Guinness Book of World Records honor for wheeling a cross across six continents, must have been very convincing.

So, as I read on and on about Jesus demanding that his disciples forgo any thoughts of family or wealth, plus endless examples of behavior which surely must seem wimpy to Bush if he took them literally, I realized that what he might be finding "hard to explain" are the contradictions between Jesus's teachings and Bush's own actions. Maybe Bush had, of necessity, found a new way to interpret all this. If changing 'Thou shalt not kill" to "You shall not murder" somehow justifies all versions of war from self-defense to pre-emptive, plus the death penalty and even timely torture, maybe the same sleight of hand could be used more extensively. After all, Christianity has gone through so many revisions in 2000 years that it's possible in our day for believers to be as polarized in their teachings as Martin Luther King and Pat Robertson.

illustration: Lady Alexandra Palace

I did find a few obvious verses that Bush could reinterpret: With "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matt. 5:9), he could say he's bringing peace to Iraq. "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matt. 25:46) is a good one, since righteousness is so subjective, and Jesus does seem willing here to inflict punishment. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32) depends of course on your definition of truth, while "Be not afraid" can be applied to suit any situation.

Many other verses are confusing enough to elicit any meaning Bush might want: "But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first" (Matt. 19:30 and 20:16); "For whosoever exalted himself shall be abased: and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11); "He that loved his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal" (John 12:25); "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it" (Matt. 16:25); and on and on.

And then of course there are the confounding parables. Take the one about the "talents" in Matthew. After a man complains that one of his servants didn't invest the money he was left while the master was away—so that "I should have received mine own with usury"—the shocking conclusion is: "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." The Christians I asked for an interpretation, after reminding me that of course it's only a pesky parable, mumbled a Jesus-friendly interpretation such as, "We should not bury our skills and riches, but instead use them wisely." Or, as the New International Version of the Bible explains this passage: "Those who seek spiritual gain in the gospel for themselves and others will become richer, and those who neglect or squander what is given them will become impoverished, losing even what they have." (There doesn't seem to be an attempt to explain the ending to this parable, where, as one new translation has it: "And as for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.")

The soldier stuff seems particularly hard to misunderstand. But could Bush and Cheney have chosen to avoid combat, I ask with tongue not too far in cheek, because they decided to literally believe verses such as: "For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matt. 26:52)? And, since Jesus's advice to soldiers to "Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages" (Luke 3:14) is "clarified" in one new translation by omitting the "do no violence" part, Bush could perhaps find here a justification for his resistance to increasing soldiers' pay.

But as you can see, much of what I found would have to be severely distorted for Bush to claim any strong affinity with Jesus. So, after all my research, I am still in shock. I still have no idea how it has been possible for him to so grossly distort my devoutly religious parents' teaching of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

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